C.J. Cherryh – Gate Of Ivrel

While I read some fairly recent novels by C.J. Cherryh I took little interest in her older works which seemed mostly science fiction. Before those however she wrote The Chronicles Of Morgaine, a fantasy trilogy (although she has written another sequel some years later), which is written in a somewhat different mold, as it is more in line with the style of those years, of the seventies, before fantasy took its first steps into the popular genre. With that I mean that the fantasy is more low-profile and character-focused instead of epic and action-focused. This does not mean the stories are not epic but the approach is more simplistic.

The first novel of the trilogy, Gate Of Ivrel (1976), is Cherryh’s first novel, and one would not easily recognize it as such. It has a mature style and a heavy atmosphere. Her characters are nowhere near stereotypes but rather mysterious and hard to approach. As it is not a long story she keeps the number of characters few, allowing her to focus on the characters.

While the series is called the Chronicles Of Morgaine the story is told from the perspective of her so-called sidekick. He becomes attached to her but he knows little about her and she discloses very little as sharing knowledge is dangerous. This choice is proven often as the sidekick is very uncertain and frequently gets separated from Morgaine, usually taken by his or her enemies, who try to cajole or seduce him for her secrets. Much of his development revolves around his divided loyalties and the choices he has to make.

The plot moves back and forth as Morgaine attempts to achieve her goal. As the story is told from the perspective of her sidekick Cherryh has to craft the plot in such a way that he maintains part of the main events. For much of the story she manages this quite well although the final sequence is rather chaotic. I am still not certain about the what or why. Part of the reason of course is because we only know and see what the sidekick does and this is often rather limited. It as least leaves space for speculation.

Gate Of Ivrel is an intriguing novel. There are several mysteries, much about the central character of Morgaine, and about the background of events. Cherryh does provide an introduction to provide the premise of the series for the reader and being able to understand sufficiently what is going on but there is much more to explore. It is not a grand or powerful novel. The setting is fairly simple and the main protagonist is not easily liked as he has serious personal issues, insecurity the most prominent of them. The central character of Morgaine is far more interesting but Cherryh made the choice to keep her a mystery which proves to be very effective as you want to read more.

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